When bullies and dongs ruled The Hill


Merrilyn ‘Merry’ Pedergnana makes a favourite sweet for her husband, Reg, and claims that quandong pie is a good lockdown treat because it is time-consuming to make.

“It fills in a day or two half days,” she said.

Reg knows where to find the secret places where wild quandongs grow, continuing a family tradition.

His grandfather, Henry Simons, worked at the Umberumberka Pumping Station during World War One and the family lived at the Umberumberka township. Reg’s mother, Merle, used to walk the hills of Umberumberka to gather the fruit for her mother, Edith Simons, who would then begin the labour of love to make quandong pie.

“It takes an hour to cut all the quandongs in half and take the bullies out,” said Merry.

Bully is a Broken Hill name for a quandong seed, and Bully on a String was an ferocious game played by local children while their mothers created quandong treats.

The rules were simple; Each player made a hole in a quandong seed, threaded a string through it and knotted it securely.

“There was usually a coin toss to see who would go first,” said Merry, of the two-player game. 

“You would lay your bully on the concrete and I had to smash it with my bully on a string.”

“When the first bully was smashed, it was called ‘bully over one’ and the players swapped roles. Every time a player smashed the opponent’s bully, that child’s score increased to ‘bully over two‘ then ‘bully over three.’

“Whoever had the highest score by playtime was the winner,” said Merry.

“Reg and I both played Bully on a String separately when we were children,” said Merry.

“And when we had our children, we taught them.”

These days, Merry uses quandongs for baking, not smashing, and from a treasured, old recipe. 

“Many years ago, a dear, elderly neighbour called Jean Pugh had quandong trees in her yard and taught me how to make the pies to her recipe, which I think was a family recipe,” said Merry.   

All of the halved quandongs go into a large pot. Merry then adds enough sugar to sweeten the fruit and cooks it until it is tender, for approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

She does not need to add water because a process occurs when it is left overnight to cool.

“Let it set in sugar overnight because sugar brings the juice out,“ said Merry.

She uses a ready-made pastry mix but her surprising substitutes create a special texture.

“I use a beaten egg and fresh cream, instead of water, and add a little bit of sugar to the mix,” said Merry.

“This makes the pie crust, when cooked, a little like a light biscuit mix.”

When the pie is made, Merry paints the top with milk and sprinkles a little sugar on top.

“Although it seems alot of sugar is used, this fruit can be quite tart, even when cooked, so a little sugar is needed to make it more palatable.”

The sweet times continue for Reg during lockdown, as Merry also made him a favourite from his Cornish mining heritage to go with his pie. “He had a Cornish pasty and a half, but I didn’t make it with rabbit,” said Merry.

IMAGE: Reg Pedergnana was beaming after his Cornish pasty and before his quandong pie. PICTURE: Merry Pedergnana

This article was first published on 8 September 2021.

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